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E-Pao! Opinion - Yaoshang Thabal and Sygmond Freud

Yaoshang Thabal and Sygmond Freud

By: KshetriMayum Imokanta Singh *



If 'Holi' is celebrated only for one day in other parts of India, our ancestors chose to lengthen the festive mood for five days in Manipur, probably, to show that we are more Hindu or closer to Shri Krishna, Radha and the Gopis than any other Hindu communities. But the local sensibilities married to 'Holi' is quite unique and makes the festival more Manipuri than alien. From calling it Yaoshang to singing 'holi' at Shri Govindajee and Mahabali temples and localities to Nakathengba (asking for money from different households) to Shelmunba (asking for money by young girls mainly in outdoor) to Thabal Chongba to Yaoshang sports, the festival carries both religious and secular fervour. The effervescent wind of change is firmly sweeping away some of the facets of Yaoshang substituting them with Yaoshang sports in some parts of Manipur but what remains intact and thriving is the Thabal Chongba. There is more to Thabal Chongba sociologically and psychoanalytically than meets the eye. Dancing and merrymaking are just the surface current but the deep undercurrent of sexuality laced in Thabal Chongba is more interesting and more significant in peeling off and understanding the various accretions of Manipuri society as a whole.

Had Sygmond Freud been alive he would have watched the space of sexual freedom bestowed to the Manipuri boys and girls in Thabal Chongba and even would have held hands of any girl of his choice to see if his theory of psychoanalysis worked or not. Freud regards mind as consisting of three parts - 'ego', 'id' and 'super-ego'. The id consists of instincts, natural desires and impulses and is the unsocialised part. As opposed to the id the super-ego consists of conscience, demands of external social life and environment and is the repository of socialisation. The function of the ego, sometimes referred to as the self, also known as the 'I', is to create an acceptable balance between the conflicting needs of the id and the super-ego i.e. to find socially acceptable ways to satisfy the urges of the id. The balancing act of the ego can take three ways, first, delaying gratification of biological urges until the social situation is appropriate, second, diverting the biological urges to a different outlet and third, repressing the urges altogether.

When Freud talks about biological urges his main emphasis is on the sexual urges. The id is controlled by what he calls the 'pleasure principle' and wants to have sex at the very first instant. But the super-ego commands the id to hold back and is controlled by the 'reality principle'. The subordination of the pleasure principle to the reality principle is done through a psychological process called 'Sublimation' where the energies of the sexual urges are turned into something useful and productive. Here Freud brings in civilization as a result of sublimation. According to him, humans cannot just have sex all the time. Without the sublimation of our sexual desires into more productive realms, there would be no civilization. But again civilization comes with a heavy price tag also specially when it involves too much of sublimation of biological desires. So, the greater the level of civilization, the greater the misery. The problem is that the desire for pleasure does not disappear in the thin air even when it is sublimated to work. The unfulfilled desires are repressed into a particular place in the mind called the 'Unconscious'. The unconscious is inaccessible to the conscious mind directly. But its contents can be manifested through three indirect routes - 'dreams' (wish fulfillment), 'parapraxes' or slips of tongue and 'jokes' (indicative of wishes). Whatever route one takes, the contents found in the unconscious, according to Freud, are primarily the repressed sexual desires.

Too much repression of the sexual urges, some psychologists claim, can lead to such disorders as psychosis and neurosis. Anyhow the Manipuri society is saved, though haltingly, from such miseries by the grace of Thabal Chongba. Thabal Chongba provides a cultural space, which serves as an outlet to divert the carnal desires, which otherwise may become repressed ones if not fulfilled. A boy or a man may have sexual fantasy about a girl from across his locality or village but may have no courage to express it to her. When he holds her hand or talks a few words to her in Thabal Chongba, at least some of his wishes are fulfilled and his angst is neutralised. Same is true for a girl when a boy or a man of her desire dances with her. But the matter is little perplexing in case of the girls as boys are the ones who choose the girls not vice versa at least till today (the future is open). Even if one does not have courage or is not allowed (in case of local boys) to dance with the girl of his desire, a mere watching with his heart's content somewhat gratifies him and evaporates his urges.

The Manipuri society, in principal, is comparatively open in terms of sexuality as it culturally allows the courtship (or dating) between a boy and a girl before marriage. But Thabal Chongba is the ultimate healthy cultural platform to express the carnal desires. For some this neutralisation of desires may serve as fulfillment of his desires when both the girl and the boy decide to prolong the relationship after the event of Thabal Chongba itself. Thabal Chongba is also a cultural tool to reduce the sexual tension and also to narrow down the gender gap. It is functional for the whole Manipuri society as the boys and the girls no more remain alien to each other unlike in some of other traditional societies in India where the boys and the girls get to know each other only after marriage. So, when the carnal desires are repressed, the society may face higher rate of sexual molestation and rape. As Freud says civilization may not necessarily flourish when the sexual desires are sublimated too much. Civilization also needs a healthy expression of sexual desires in addition to their diversion to productive works. So, Thabal Chongba serves as one of the expressions of young people's sexual desires so that the Manipuri civilization may march forward.

Thabal Chongba can be construed as our way of sex education to the boys and girls. In some of what we call tribal societies this education is imparted through such institutions as 'dormitory'. They have separate 'boys' dormitory' and 'girls' dormitory' where elders of the community train the young people on the intricacies of their culture and sexual relationship. Such societal contents are manifested through dance where the boys and the girls participate so that both become aware of each other to maintain solidarity. This is one species of modernity laced in the traditional societies.

The other significant attribute of Thabal Chongba is that there is also the right to reject from the side of the girls, though even the local elders (including their mothers) do not favour such rejections. If a girl decides not to allow a boy of certain features whom she does not like, then it is solely her wish. But this is a bane for that boy who is not able to fulfill his desires and has to repress them (so that they may be fulfilled in his dreams to satisfy Freud). One group of boys or men whose carnal desires are not fulfilled through Thabal Chongba is the band of local boys or men who do not get green signal to take part in their local Thabal Chongba. Implicit in this arrangement is that local girls are to be treated as 'sisters' or close relatives. But the Manipuri society is not 'Leikai' or 'village exogamous' but 'Yek/Salai' (clan) exogamous. So, local boys still have carnal desires towards their girls but they have to be repressed at the cost of their satisfaction and for the respect of the local norms. This way they have to find an outlet to express their desires in the Thabal Chongba of other localities or villages.

The temporal gap between one Yaoshang and the next one is huge for the boys and the girls. The question remains, is Thabal Chongba the only outlet to fulfill one's sexual desires? How these urges are manifested in the period between two Yaoshangs? This gap is healthily filled up when the young people are involved in casual 'Eve-teasing'. Eve-teasing has a very negative connotation in some societies or places, say in Delhi. But here in Manipur 'Eve-teasing' should be interpreted in a positive and healthy connotation where it is a socially approved way of expressing sexual desires. 'Eve-teasing' is a gender-biased term in the context of Manipur. It is not only 'Eve-teasing' but also 'Adam-teasing', which are in vogue (culturally) in this land of Thoibi. This way the carnal urges are reciprocated between boys and girls when they are not revolving synchronisingly around the axis of Dhol players in Thabal Chongba. But they eagerly wait for the advent of Yaoshang Thabal, the harbinger of freedom, so that they may empty the residual desires, which are the remnants of incomplete expression of their sexual desires during 'Eve' or 'Adam-teasing'. Yaoshang sports may come and go but the essence of Thabal Chongba will ever refuse to vanish from the cultural scenery of Manipur.


KshetriMayum Imokanta Singh is a Ph.D. scholar at JNU, New Delhi
He contributes regularly to e-pao.net. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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